Getting your message across online is hard enough. Your web design shouldn’t make it harder. So why do so many websites get readability wrong?

Bottom line: if your copy isn’t easy to read, your visitors won’t bother. Here are seven things to remember when it comes to formatting your content.

A line-width that hits the sweet spot

Line-width is crucial. Too long and the eyes get tired. Too narrow and you fracture the rhythm of your writing. Web usability researchers Baymard Institute recommend a line-width of between 50 and 75 characters – including spaces.

Crack the colour conundrum

In the age of the brand recognition, many businesses defend their colour palette like a mother protecting her young. But if your choices lead to readability issues, what’s the point? Copy must be easily decipherable from the background colour of your pages, without a contrast that’s eye-wateringly high. Black on white is the obvious choice. Yellow on blue, not so much.

Use a sans-serif font

Sans-serif fonts – the ones without the twizzley bits on the letters – are easier to read online. Clean and clear beats confusing and fussy, so steer clear of Times New Roman.

Get the font size right

Much like with line-width, there’s a sweet spot to hit here. You don’t want your visitors to be squinting point-blank into their iPads, nor do you want them to be overwhelmed with words that are so big they have their own gravitational pull. Find the balance. Smashing Magazine argues convincingly that 16 pixels should be the minimum font size for your body copy.

Plenty of negative space

If your best friend had something super-duper important to discuss with you, you wouldn’t go to the busiest wine bar in town. You’d go somewhere quiet. Somewhere you could focus on the conversation.

The same principles apply online. It’s just things are an awful lot louder. You’ve seen websites bursting with so much content that you don’t know where to look. If you want your visitor to read, you could benefit from taking away all other distractions.

Consider your line spacing

When lines are too close together, eyes struggle to move correctly to the next line. This creates unnatural pauses in your content and fatigues your reader. So don’t be afraid to add a little padding between those lines. Your reader will thank you.

Format subheads correctly

The whole point of a subhead is to signpost a pit-stop in your content and give your reader a break. Make sure they stand out. Your subheads should have a larger font size than your body copy. You should also embolden them.

Readability needn’t be rocket science. Get the basics right and your content stands a higher chance of being read by your visitors. Which is the whole point, right? By way of a guide, if your content looks anything like the image below, you should probably go back to the drawing board.